general wackiness, travel, Uncategorized, writing

Ten Ways to Make Your Next Comic-Con Even Better

045 (Copy)Well, San Diego Comic Con is over now, sadly. The cosplayers have un-cossed. The street preachers have disappeared. The flyers, leaflets, and business cards littering the avenues have been swept away. It’s bittersweet, in a way. Before you forget about it entirely in the rush of everyday life, however, linger for a moment longer.

As a nine-year veteran of SDCC, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make your experience even better next year. My list of ten tips, learned through the school of hard knocks and meager disposable income, are:DSCF2223 (Copy)

1. Yes, you can save money on parking. Parking fees next to the convention center are astronomical. Fees at the closest hotel rooms are almost as bad. It’s not all that easy to get. So what’s a poor nerd to do? Park further away and take the trolley or a cab. Joe’s Auto Parks is 12 blocks away and only $5 for the whole day. Well worth the walk (http://joesautoparks.com/san-diego/). Or park at the airport for $13 a day (economy lot) and take a cab in.

Edited to say that you can also park at Qualcomm Stadium for free and take the trolley in. An even better deal!

2. Your luggage does not have to be heavy enough to dislocate your shoulder. Before you leave next time, pack light and make sure you have lots of extra room for the inevitable crap you will accumulate. The swag, people. You know you have to have it. And you really need room for it. T-shirts. Posters. Gigantic bags. Buttons. Paper hats. Horse masks. Whatever, dude.

3. Take the train if you are coming from LA or other points north. Seriously. It’s so much better than driving could ever be. I vowed to take the train after sitting stuck in traffic on the freeway off-ramp for 45 minutes. But you should be aware that you might have to stand if you board at an extra busy time. Comic Con often coincides with the opening of Del Mar, the race track. There’s nothing like riding the train next to cosplayers and wannabe Southern belles in huge floppy hats and frilly dresses, their flawless, manicured nails clutching a bottle of vino in disguise, and their loud shrieking laughter proof that they’ve already imbibed.

4. Watch your badge. They can and do fall off that crappy plastic badge holder and then you’re faced with big problems. If you can’t find it via lost and found at badge registration, you’ll have to pay daily fees to replace the badge.

5. Support independent writers and artists. The Exhibit Hall is a feast for the senses, like all of Comic Con and as such it can be completely overwhelming. Don’t let the loud moneymakers have all your time and attention, though. Visit Artists Alley or the Small Press tables to find unique books, stories, and artwork and know that you are supporting the efforts of starving artists directly.

6. Team up with friends. First of all, it’s really easy to start chatting with people next to you when you are waiting in 6 hour lines. I’ve made two good friends doing just that. Friends are also extremely helpful when it comes to purchasing badges and sharing hotel expenses. Plus, they are overall fun.

037 (Copy)7. Avoid the crowds by entering the convention center through the back door. What? Is it possible that you don’t have to struggle down the maddening hordes at the front of the convention center in order to get inside? Yes, my friends. It is true! For I myself have used this little known entrance this very year! Don’t feel bad, though. I only just discovered it despite the fact that it’s so easy to find. Just look at the map and plan out your route. Because so few people use it, though, it seems too good to be true. Forge on and ascend those stairs, though. At the end you will find your reward.

8. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Sure, the temperature may only be in the 70’s, but the humid ocean air and the sun beating down on you as you wait in 5 mile-long line after line may heat you up and dehydrate you more efficiently than a commercial pizza oven. Is your only recourse to shell out $4 for a teensy-weensy bottle of water? Nay! And again I say, nay! Bring your own water bottle and slink to the back of the big halls where you will find water stands. Also of considerable help are electrolyte pills, which you can buy online or at your local health food store. They contain the electrolytes that Gatorade has but without all the added sugar.

9. Sleep short but sleep well. A long restful night’s sleep is too much to ask between rooms shared amongst 14 people, sleeping on the sidewalk in line, and nonstop parties. However by making use of ear plugs (for those 13 snorers in your room) and eye masks (to blot out every last scintilla of light) you will sleep deeply during those precious few hours, and away (mostly) refreshed for another day of fun.DSCF2182 (Copy)

10. Don’t give up on Hall H. This is what I did a few years ago. I saw the hellacious lines that stretch on not just for one night but two in order to get into Hall H for Saturday’s program. The new wristband policy, despite its flaws, does cut down on the need to sleep in line. You may still have to wait a long time but during certain days – Thursday and Sunday, I’m looking at you – you can walk right into your panel within an hour or so of its start. It doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. I did it myself.

And just for the record, I plan on being there for my 10th Comic Con next year, when I will perhaps discover even more tips to enhance the crazy free-for-all that we all love so much.

What do you think of these tips? Do you have any to add? Comment below!

general wackiness, travel

Comic-Con 2015

So I’m taking a little break from my 100 Spanish Photos series to post a bunch of pictures from a different kind of pilgrimage – one that I have gone on every year since 2006. San Diego Comic-Con. The granddaddy of pop culture conventions and more fun than is almost humanly possible. Have a taste of it, dear viewer. And you, too, may decide to enter the wild terrible fray that occurs when tickets are available every year

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general wackiness, humor, travel

San Diego Comic Con Madness: Part II

San Diego Convention Center (7584114534)

In Part I of my Comic Con write-up I gave you a brief taste of the packed-to-the-rafters scene inside the 2.6 million square foot San Diego Convention Center. What? 2.6 million? Am I serious? Yes! But apparently it’s not enough to contain the greedy entrepreneurial marketers who cannot resist the specter of hundreds of thousands of high-earning (or future high-earning) nerds descending on downtown San Diego. And good for them. I mean these people are performing a valuable public service. They offer true value. What fan doesn’t need gobs of flimsy cardboard signs, $.02 luridly-colored gee-gaws with the names of various TV shows, movies, books and games splashed across them, and thin plastic or cloth bags the size of the side of a barn to lug around said crap. You do!

Swag giveaway by the Discovery Channel in the Gaslamp District.

Honestly, a weird kind of fever comes over fans who attend Comic Con. Even if you normally don’t care about said nick-nacks somehow you will wait in a line for 6 hours to obtain one while you are at Comic Con. Or snatch one by chasing down one of the hapless half-clothed model-types who appear on street corners to dispense them, not an easy task since you must also push through the maddening crowd like a housewife grasping after a bargain price on bras. Same thing, really.

Over the years these marketers have set up shop in the Gaslamp District directly across the street from the Convention Center. Some movie or TV studios take over whole businesses, draping them in advertisements or completely transforming them into dens of iniquity/fantasy wonderlands like the recruitment hall from Ender’s Game or a mysterious maze/encounter with Godzilla or a free cereal bar with dozens of types of cereal and five kinds of milk to promote King of the Nerds.

Costumed man on stilts in the Gaslamp District of San Diego
Just your regular Comic Con attendee. On stilts.

Mobs of people, most of them under 30, descend on the Gaslamp district to experience this one-of-a-kind sight. Many of the crowd are dressed in incredibly complex, creative and tight costumes of any sort of obscure comic book character you can think of. The advertisements are only one facet of the place, which also hosts numerous parties – some of them star-studded – movie premieres, game lounges, fan gatherings, zombie apocalypse stock-up shops, food trucks, and so on. One year I was walking along the sidewalk in the Gaslamp District and a bakery van pulled up beside me and delivered a HUGE, freshly baked cupcake. In 2013, I waited in line for autographs from the cast of the History Channel’s series Vikings, which were held at a water-themed mock up with racing kayaks, of all things. A group of about 25 Viking re-enactors showed up and had a grand time posing for pictures and shouting out, “For Odin!”

Group of people costumed as Vikings.
Random Vikings at Comic Con 2013.

One of my favorite Comic Con activities is a free, family-friendly event outside the convention center: the San Diego Zombie Walk. Where else can you be placidly enjoying your glass of wine and dish of pasta at a sidewalk cafe when hundreds of gorily costumed zombies shuffle by in search of brains? Nowhere else, my friends!

The “Con on the Lawn” is a relatively new phenomena located between the convention center and the Hilton Bayfront hotel. There are games, giant Lego creations, stages, tents, lines and events in the bay such as the TV Guide yacht, which evidently is only accessible via special pass, and the Jackdaw from Assassin’s Creed III, an authentic ship from bygone days (a loaner from the nearby San Diego Maritime Museum suitably decorated).

Tall ship decorated as the Jackdaw from Assassins Creed III.
The Jackdaw from Assassins Creed III.

The hotels are incredible, an one of the best parts of the con experience, in my humble opinion. Competition for hotel rooms closest to the convention center is intense, not to mention expensive, even at con rates. However, when you share with friends it becomes affordable. It’s nice to experience a little luxury every now and again. One friend, when confronted with the beautiful decorations and high end expensive touches, blurted out: “I’m not worth this!”

Steampunk man on trolley in San Diego.
You can definitely tell who’s headed to Comic Con, such as this gentleman on the trolley.

Hanging out in the hotel bars in the evenings is a fun way to relax, and the potential for celebrity sightings is high, since many of the celebrity attendees stay at these hotels. I’ve seen Robert Downey Jr., Chevy Chase, and Tyler Posey. I even rode up the elevator with the last two. Very exciting, let me tell you! Speaking of celebrities, there are plenty of them outside of the convention center as well. Some are just walking around the streets, taking in the spectacle for themselves, and others are attending special events like the charity panels put on by Nerd HQ every year.

The drama and frustration of securing tickets to Comic Con and downtown hotel reservations every year could fill another entire entry, but I won’t go into the particulars of those right now. Suffice it to say that although it’s not the easiest thing in the world to access, Comic Con is definitely one of the best. I’ll be headed there again, God willing, in Summer 2014!

general wackiness, humor, travel

The Real Wonderland: San Diego’s Comic Con

San Diego Comic-Con sign (7607417152)The Beginning

It started innocently enough, back in 2006 or 2007 (my memory for details is not so hot, I must confess). An occasional sci fi convention attendee, I was scanning some newspaper or magazine when I came upon the mention of Comic Con. The biggest sci fi convention of them all, it proclaimed – a must to attend if you liked media, pop culture, and all things speculative fiction. Intrigued, I researched the con and made arrangements to attend. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to meet editors and agents, and to see what new and exciting developments are in the works for an eager wordsmith such as myself. I’d really enjoyed a World Con (World Science Fiction Convention) that I had attended in Los Angeles some years prior, mainly because of the media presence in movies and TV, so I hoped to have a similar experience (that World Con is also near to my heart because it’s where I first met fellow XC author Janet L. Loftis).

Embarcadero San Diego San Diego

It helped that Comic Con has traditionally been held in beautiful San Diego, where the weather is almost universally pleasant and the ocean atmosphere permeates the town so completely that my hair never fails to frizz up in the salt-drenched moist air. The city’s beaches, open-air shopping and Embarcadero San Diego strolling, attractions such as Sea World, Zoo, Wild Animal Park, and the museums and eye-catching architecture of Balboa Park make it a destination unto itself, which is complemented by its pleasant atmosphere and general friendliness. The gigantic Sangrias* and the Spanish architecture of the bygone era make Old Town a favorite as well. (*La Pinata is my preferred destination for this, a colorful, festively decorated restaurant in an authentic, although somewhat crowded former home.) What I’m getting at with all this tourist-brochure rambling is that San Diego is a great place to visit, and the entire city embraces tourists with open arms.

I arrived in San Diego with an open mind and a fairly high level of entrepreneurial zeal. What greeted me during my first Comic Con was pretty unexpected, however. The whole thing can be summed up on one word:

The word

And that’s not an exaggeration. Really! First of all, there was the crowds. Attendance is capped at 130,000, and every single one of those people was mushed into the Exhibit Hall or in the regular halls or occupying the stalls in the ladies bathroom. Okay, maybe not this last one, but it did seem like it sometimes. As a consequence of all these people, there were lines for everything.

Staircase crowded by Comic Con geeksThe lines had lines. The most horrid lines occurred for events in Hall H which attracts the biggest of the big names (think movie stars like Angelina Jolie) and Ballroom 20, which has panels for favorite TV shows like Dexter and Vampire Diaries, etc. But lines were everywhere and soon I learned to just resign myself to waiting in them for some length of time pretty for much no matter what I wanted to do. I’ve found that such resignation is a helpful attendant as you shuffle along through the bustling crowds at .2 miles per hour. If, by some lottery-like chance, you don’t encounter a line for whatever you want to do at the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

So there were the lines. And the crowds. The lines and crowds were not altogether boring and traumatic, however. The good part about lines is that you meet a lot of great people standing next to you – in fact, I met two of my very good friends that way in a subsequent year. And the crowds, while intimidating initially, are almost universally polite, good-natured, and just plain interesting to look at. This is primarily due to the never-ending creativity of the cosplayers, and their happy vanity – I’ve never once had a request to take a picture denied. People watching, then, is a constant amusement at Comic Con.

Cosplayer in front of Comic Con.
Well-adjusted adult male – I mean, cosplayer.

Panels

What are all these people waiting in line for, you might wonder? Mainly previews of upcoming TV shows, movies, video games, novels, and whatnot.

Okay, so when I put it like that it’s not that interesting, huh?

The panels are just plain fun. You get to see clips, trailers, and sometimes entire episodes or movies before anyone else. Those poor slobs resting comfortably in their homes don’t know what they’re missing! You have a chance to see your favorite celebrity in all of his/her obscenely beautiful, anorexic glory, entertaining you with anecdotes and personal details. You might even get to ask them a question, if you are fast enough to scurry up to the microphone before everyone else. Yes, that’s right, your celebrity crush might LOOK at you and SPEAK to you.

Maybe that doesn’t sound all that great, either. Well, allow me to continue.

In addition to previews, other panels are informative (How to Break into Hollywood, Bookkeeping for Creative Professionals, Origins of the Zombie Apocalypse, and so forth). A particularly amusing one that I recently attended was two teams of lawyers arguing about whether or not a person who had turned into a zombie but later recovered could be held criminally liable for a murder committed while zombified. This is CRUCIAL information for you to have, people!

Shirtless, mask-covered monster dude and woman smiling.
The author, looking rather unconcerned with her impending doom.

One of my favorite places to visit is the Exhibit Hall. What’s so great about an 8 million square foot room filled with weird people hawking their wares, you might wonder? Well, where else are you going to see half-naked hotties dressed in 18th century pirate costumes? Where else can you stand in line for a photo of you stabbing to death an armor-plated troll? Where else can you purchase various whips, chains, collars and corsets made from leather, steel, and watch parts? Actually, now that I think about it, there are rather, er, alternative stores in the seedy neighborhoods of cities where such is possible. Let’s ignore that for now.

Other highlights that I have experienced while browsing the Exhibit Hall over the years are: 18 foot tall Lego sculptures of various cartoon/movie characters, 3-D printers building plastic gee-gaws before your very eyes, countless purveyors of printed materials featuring zombie bunnies, animated microbes, demonized pumpkins, and beanie-wearing mutant insect superheroes. My personal favorite, however, are the far-off glimpses of hunky young actors scribbling autographs furiously while nervously eyes the eager swarming crowd and realizing that the security guards protecting them are of little use against a stampede of Red Bull-fueled gaggle of shrieking preteen girls.

Here also celebrity sightings are common. One year I was pushed aside by a circle of black suit-wearing security personnel who were surrounding a short, strolling, nicely coiffed guy who looked alarmingly like Neil Patrick Harris. Turned out it was Neil Patrick Harris. Another time I saw, in a period of 5 minutes, Gene Simmons from KISS, Geordie and Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and my childhood crush Paul Michael Glaser, he of the original Starsky and Hutch, now manning a table that sold his children’s book.

Take a look at Time Magazine’s walk around Comic Con for a quick video of the craziness.

Is this all, you might say? Nope! Stay tuned for: Part 2 – Comic Con – Outside the Convention Center